A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 7

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Released early from a 14 year stretch on Norfolk Island, which had itself replaced a sentence of death, Robert Atcherley Taylor returned to Tasmania. His many months of good work as a convict-chaplain, which had won him his freedom, also served to prepare him for life on the outside. He was ready to go straight. By which I mean, straight back to swindling anyone gullible enough to be taken in by the well-practiced persona of Parson Taylor.

The first indications that Robert had returned to Tasmania, and to his old ways, surfaced in December 1836. Hobart’s Colonial Times reported the following complaint, made to Hobart Town Police on the 23rd of that month:

Quote A gentleman complained of having been cheated and defrauded by a man who called himself Taylor, who turned out to be a man well known in this Colony among the old hands, by the appellation of Parson Taylor. It appeared he had lately come from Sydney, and introduced himself to Mr. Bent and others, and among the rest to the complainant, as having been employed by the Bishop at Sydney to inspect the schools in this Colony, and by his plausible manner obtained of the complainant credit and money to the amount of forty pounds, and then took his leave for Launceston.

The clerical appearance of the sham parson induced complainant to give him a letter of introduction to a friend at Launceston, of whom by producing a forged letter or order purporting to have been written by the complainant the sham parson had got ten pounds. Complainant now prayed for justice, and his statement was taken in order to be forwarded to Launceston to stay the Taylor’s proceedings. Unquote

Tasmania, Cataracts near LauncestonCataracts near Lanceston

This complaint prompted the Police Magistrate to issue a warrant for Robert’s commitment to Gaol, to await his trial. The warrant, dated 14 February 1837, was addressed to the Chief District Constable and to the Keeper of the Gaol at Launceston and stated:

Quote These are to command you, the said Constable, forthwith to convey and deliver into the custody of the said Keeper of the said Gaol, the body of the said Robert Taylor, and you, the said Keeper, are hereby required and commanded hereupon immediately to receive the said Robert Taylor into your custody, securely to detain and keep, until the next Sittings of the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, to be holden at Launceston. Unquote

Unfortunately – for everyone except Robert – this warrant proved to be insufficient when the subject of its directions appeared at the Supreme Court about two months later. Launceston’s Cornwall Chronicle of 19 April 1837 reported that “A notorious fellow named Taylor, commonly called Parson Taylor, (from the circumstance of his practicing his swindling propensities under the garb of religion), was discharged by proclamation, when placed at the Bar of the Supreme Court for trial.” Extracts from the warrant then followed, and the newspaper indignantly concluded: “The reader will not find in the above any order to arraign the parson at the Bar of the Supreme Court.”

The long arm of the law did eventually take a more secure hold of Robert Atcherley Taylor. He appeared at the Launceston Quarter Sessions of 31 August 1837 and was found guilty of obtaining £10 under false pretences (“by means of a Counterfeit letter”) from former convict Britton Jones. Even then it seems that doubts were expressed in some quarters regarding the legality of Robert’s conviction, although the Cornwall Chronicle was confident that justice had been done:

Quote The man, called Parson Taylor, was tried at the Court of Quarter Sessions last Thursday, upon a charge of swindling, and sentenced to seven year’s transportation. Some people doubt the legality of putting the man upon his trial. We have no doubt about it. The Chairman of the Court is not likely, in our opinion, to err in his judgement; at all events there is no doubt of the man’s guilt—and should he escape, through being placed illegally upon his trial—from the punishment due to the particular crime he was charged with, he will be committed to take his trial upon other charges of a similar nature—that can be satisfactorily proved against him.

We would rejoice to see this Parson Taylor well punished, because his swindling has been carried on under the cloak of Religion! Unquote

It appears that Robert served much of his seven year sentence at Port Arthur. He was recorded there in a convict muster taken on 31 December 1841. It is also from that year that entries in the Conduct Register for Robert include several references to Port Arthur – and at least five occurrences of the word ‘Misconduct’.

The punishment meted out for Robert’s misbehaviour ranged from solitary confinement (for 24 hours in one case, and seven days in another) to “Six months hard labor on the Roads” and even a full 12 months hard labour. These must have been very dark times for Robert Atcherley Taylor, although it has to be said that he was used to living through such times and in most if not all cases he had only himself to blame for them. It was not as if he was unaware of the consequences his actions would bring!

Thankfully, brighter days were to come for Robert. It appears that on 1 January 1844 he received a Ticket of Leave, which would have allowed him a degree of freedom (he could work for himself but had to remain within a defined area, report regularly to the local authorities, and attend church services). Even better news came in the form of a Government Notice, issued by the Colonial Secretary’s Office on 24 July 1844, which began:

The periods for which the undermentioned persons were transported expiring at the date placed after their respective names, Certificates of their Freedom may be obtained then, or at any subsequent period, upon application of the Comptroller-General of Convicts, Hobart Town, or at that of a Police Magistrate in the interior.

There followed a list of convict ships, with the names of some of those who had been transported on them given beneath one. The only entry under Indefatigable was “Robert A Taylor, 31st August”. Robert wasted little time in obtaining his Certificate of Freedom, which was dated 4 September 1844.

Tasmania, Natives on the Ouse RiverNatives on the Ouse River

Free once more, it appears that Robert at last saw sense and settled into a way of life which was very unfamiliar to him: that of an honest man. He settled at Ouse Bridge, in the Tasmanian county of Cumberland, where he became master of the children’s school. It was recorded that Robert “exercised the duties of his office in a most able and creditable manner”.

It was at Ouse Bridge, on 31 December 1845, that Robert, in another departure from a path which he had followed for so many years, got married – at the age of 61. His bride was a widow by the name of Ann Gilkes. Ann was almost certainly the Ann Clarke who married Elijah Gilkes at New Norfolk in Tasmania on 12 May 1834; she was a widow then too. I have been unable to find out more about Ann’s life prior to her marriage to Elijah, or her fate after she wed Robert.

But what of Robert’s fate? A man who had spent most of his adult life weaving a web of deceit and paying heavily for his crimes, he was now free and employed in a position of great trust. How long could that last? The answer is “not long” – but the reason for this, which you will discover in the following statement, is probably not the one you were expecting.

Quote George Chadwick being Sworn States I am a Constable in the Hamilton Police. On Thursday morning the fifteenth day of October Instant between Eight and Nine O’ Clock I was near to the Ouse Bridge on this side. I saw Robert Atcherley Taylor come on to the Bridge on horseback. I saw the horse stumble and Taylor struck it with a stick and immediately the horse and Taylor fell over the Bridge into the water. I called out for help and ran near to the bridge and on the edge of the water and saw Taylor swimming to the opposite bank which he was unable to reach and was carried down by the force of the stream. He was under the water several times for about one hundred yards, when he called ‘I am going’. A man at this time jumped into the water but was unable to get hold of Taylor, he was still washed down sometimes under and sometimes above the water. Another man jumped in and caught hold of Taylor but could not hold him and the stream washed him about five or six hundred yards further down his face being under water, another man jumped in and pulled Taylor to the side and pulled him out of the water. … Unquote

Constable Chadwick’s statement was given in evidence on 16 October 1845 at the inquest into Robert’s death, which had occurred the previous day. The jury’s verdict was that Robert had lost his life due to suffocation and drowning in the River Ouse, into which he had been precipitated by accident and misfortune. What a dramatic and tragic ending to the story of Robert Atcherley Taylor – a fraudster who cheated himself out of many years of liberty, a teacher who never learned his lesson until very late in life, and a pretended parson who, in the end, saw the light and redeemed his soul before he went to meet his maker.

Picture credits. Cataracts near Launceston: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Natives on the Ouse River: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons (painting by John Glover dated 1838).


[1] Colonial Times (Hobart), 27 Dec 1836, page 7. Copy viewed at Trove. The report relating to Robert Taylor was also published in the Launceston Advertiser, 29 Dec 1836, page 3 (copy viewed at Trove) and The Sydney Monitor, 11 Jan 1837, page 3 (copy viewed at Trove).
[2] The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 19 Apr 1837, page 1. Copy viewed at Trove.
[3] Launceston Advertiser, 7 Sep 1837, page 2. Copy viewed at Trove.
[4] Comprehensive Registers of Convicts, 1804 – 1853 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, item CON22/1/2, page 443). Copies viewed at Ancestry – Tasmania, Australia, Convict Court and Selected Records, 1800-1899, and at Linc Tasmania.
[5] Carmen Callil (2014), Bad Faith. Pages 24-5. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[6] The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), Sat 2 Sep 1837, page 2. Copy viewed at Trove.
[7] Van Diemen’s Land, Return of Male and Female Convicts having their distribution throughout the Colony on the 31st December 1841 (The National Archives, Kew, series HO10, piece 51, folio 212). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849.
[8] Tickets of Leave, 1810-75. At: NSW State Records website, accessed 3 Oct 2015.
[9] Colonial Times (Hobart), 6 Aug 1844, page 4. Copy viewed at Trove.
[10] Marriage of Robert Atchuley [= Atcherley] Taylor and Ann Gilks registered Hamilton, Tasmania, 1845; Reference RGD37/1/4 no 2153. Copy of register entry viewed at Linc Tasmania. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M13531-3, Film 1368287.
[11] New Norfolk, Buckingham County, Tasmania marriage register, entry 159 dated (Elijah Gilkes and Ann Clarke); Reference RGD36/1/2 no 2615. Copy of register viewed at Linc Tasmania.
[12] The Courier (Hobart), 21 Oct 1846, page 2. Copy viewed at Trove.
[13] Findings, Depositions and Associated Papers Relating to Coroners’ Inquests (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, item SC195/1/19/1554 – Robert Atcherley Taylor, findings of inquisition and supporting evidence). Copy viewed at Linc Tasmania.

A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 6

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A death sentence would, in most cases, bring a person’s life story to a rather unpleasant end – but not in the case of Robert Atcherley Taylor! The judgement of death initially recorded following Robert’s conviction in Sydney for “obtaining money under false pretences” was not carried out. Instead, his sentence was “Commuted to 14 years and hard labour in Chains”.

Leg irons from Old Melbourne Gaol

As had happened back in England following his original conviction for a fraud in 1811, after the Supreme Criminal Court in Sydney had passed judgement in 1827 Robert was transferred to a prison hulk. From there, he was sent on a voyage of almost a thousand miles, to what must have been the British Empire’s remotest – and harshest – penal colony.

Norfolk Island was described by one author as “a place of punishment and safe-keeping for… the worst class of offenders—men of desperate and almost irreclaimable character”. When the advisability of retaining Norfolk Island as an “ultra-penal settlement” was considered in 1848, it was recommended that it was kept “as the severest punishment, short of death, for any criminal.” This was the place which was set to be Robert’s home for 14 years.

Among the few official records I have found relating to Robert’s time on Norfolk Island is the 1828 census of New South Wales. This shows Robert Taylor, of the Indefatigable, arrived 1812, district of residence “Norfolk Isl’d”. There is also a duplicate Certificate of Freedom for Robert, issued on 28 December 1830, which has a note written across it stating that the certificate was “Cancelled before Signing it having been discovered that Taylor was transferred to Norfolk Island by the Supreme Court Sydney 3d Sept 1827 for 14 years, where he is now”.

Norfolk Island

Robert was present on Norfolk Island in January 1834 when some of his fellow convicts attempted a rebellion. This failed, and 22 of the prisoners were executed. The settlement’s Commandant, James Morisset, left the island and was replaced, in March 1834, by Major Joseph Anderson. Among the changes Anderson brought about on Norfolk Island was the delivery of religious services to the prisoners – by two of their own. According to George William Rusden’s History of Australia:

Quote Anderson discovered amongst his subjects two prisoners educated respectively for the ministry, in the Churches of England and Rome. He astounded them by proposing that they should be themselves ‘placed in a position fit and encouraging for repentance,’ and do what they could for the good of their fellows. Unquote

The prisoner “educated for the ministry” in the Church of England was none other than Robert Atcherley Taylor, and the story of how he became a convict-chaplain was told in more detail in the Sydney Truth of 19 February 1922. An article entitled “Norfolk Island in Major Anderson’s Time” referred to Anderson’s assertion that “no clergyman could be induced to reside on the island” and described, in the Major’s own words, his solution to that problem:

Quote In my office there were two or three large manuscript books, very properly called ‘record books’, for in them was written the name of every convict on the island, with columns showing his first, last and all known crimes and sentences—all and everything previously known about him. I was in the habit of studying these books often during my leisure hours, and one day I made the discovery that a prisoner of the name of Taylor had been a chaplain on board a British man-of-war before he was transported for forgery. Soon after I found that man named Sheahan had been educated to be a Roman Catholic priest. …

I first sent for Taylor, then for Sheahan, and spoke to them both very seriously. I informed them that I had discovered from the register their former history; what they had been and what they had been sent here for. I solemnly added that it was never too late to mend—to repent—to use their best endeavors for their own and others’ good. I then observed that our present method of keeping the Sabbath holy, and with any reverence or benefit, appeared to amount to nothing, to be almost a sinful mockery in fact. But as I now knew their former profession and capacities, I thought that with the help of God and their earnest prayers for pardon and grace to amend their lives, they might do much to improve our present conditions; to show, at least, that we had some sense of spiritual duties, and a desire to worship God publicly as best we could.

I then told them that I would take upon myself the responsibility of building and fitting up for them temporary places of worship, with a pew for myself and superintendents to attend occasionally, if they would undertake to perform the services of their respective churches twice every Sunday to the prison population; that I would remove them from the barracks, and build them separate huts, giving each a well-behaved convict to wait upon them.

They were both delighted and promised with God’s help to do their best. I said, ‘This must not be hurried; I will give you a week to think it over, and to commune in your own hearts’. They soon returned with many expressions of gratitude, earnestly urging me to give them a trial. I did so, giving immediate orders for completing the necessary accommodation. This was soon done. On the following Sunday the whole of the convicts were marched to their different new places of worship, where Taylor and Sheahan officiated with the usual morning prayers and a sermon. Unquote

Anderson, JosephMajor Anderson (pictured right) attended the services of his convict chaplains occasionally and was “much pleased”. He said he felt “that if I could but shut my eyes and forget by whom I was surrounded, I should at once say that I had seldom marked a more quiet and attentive congregation.”

Robert’s ministry was also witnessed by two Quakers, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, who visited Norfolk Island from 4 March to 29 April 1835. On Sunday 8 March they accompanied Major Anderson to the congregation of Protestant prisoners, and observed:

Quote The prayers, &c. of the Episcopal Church were read by a prisoner, who is said to have been brought up as a minister of that denomination of Christians. He delivered a very appropriate address, or sermon, including an uncompromising denunciation of sin, and an exhibition of the hopes of the gospel. Were his own life an exemplification of the efficacy of the doctrines he preaches, and his mind so kept under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that the baptizing power thereof might freely accompany his ministry, much good might be expected from his labours. I would not be understood to intimate that no benefit results from them, nor yet that the man does not in some degree feel what he preaches; and he honestly acknowledged, in the course of his address, his own want of proper conformity to what he so strongly urged as necessary for himself and others. The same individual also reads prayers in the jail, and in the hospital, on First-days, and he attends to the opening of the Protestant adult school. Unquote

One week later the Quakers attended the congregation of the Protestant prisoners once more. Backhouse wrote that the prayers were read “by R. A. Taylor, whose sermon was on the necessity of the influence of the Holy Spirit, and contained evidence that he is not a stranger to the principles of spiritual religion. Taylor says, that in a former part of his life, he preached different doctrine, not founded on Scripture, but that he did so in ignorance and darkness.”

Robert’s sermons do seem to have a positive impact on some members of his captive congregation. In 1836 The Colonist, in Sydney, published some lines of poetry, prefaced as follows:

Quote The following lines will be read with interest when it is known that they were written at Norfolk Island by a convict named John Walton, the ringleader of the prisoners who, some years ago, piratically seized the Lady Wellington and carried her into the Bay of Islands, where they were discovered and the vessel retaken by Captain Duke; the lines were addressed to another prisoner named Robert Taylor, who had formerly been a chaplain in His Majesty’s Navy, and who has been officiating in that capacity at Norfolk Island to his fellow-prisoners for some years, but the period of his probation there having expired, they were sent to him prior to his departure. Unquote

John Walton’s lines began:

ERE you depart, receive this compliment,
‘Tis due, and in sincerity I tend it,
It may be some encouragement to find,
The many anxious hours you have spent in contemplation
Have not been spent in vain, the Scripture says
The heavenly angels pleased, announce their joy
Whene’er a sinner truly seeks his God! …

Although he had been sent to Norfolk Island for 14 years, Robert Atcherley Taylor left that place after serving less than ten. Major Anderson’s ‘church movement’ had been a success, to the extent that real clergymen were willing to accept appointments on the island. As a result, Robert – along with Sheahan – was recommended for a commutation of sentence.

Both men were also paid one shilling per day each “for the good work they had performed”, for the whole of the period they had acted as chaplains. Which meant that Robert was once more a free man, and had some money earned from honest work.

> On to Part 7

Picture credits. Leg irons: Adapted from an image by GSV’s Flickr photostream and used under a Creative Commons licence. Map showing location of Norfolk Island: based on a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Joseph Anderson: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons.


[1] Sydney Gaol Entrance Book (State Archives NSW, series 2514, roll 851, entry dated 13 Jun 1827 for Robert Taylor). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930.
[2] Norfolk Island. At: Lonely Planet (website), accessed 1 Oct 2015.
[3] Robert Montgomery Martin (1851), The British Colonies; their History, Extent, Condition, and Resources, volume III, Pages 106-7. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[4] 1828 census of New South Wales (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Series 1273, volume PQRST, number 109). Copy viewed at Ancestry – 1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (Australian Copy).
[5] Butts Of Certificates Of Freedom 1827-1867 (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Series 12210, reel 986, number 30/914). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867.
[6] Norfolk Island Penal Establishment. At: NSW State Records website, accessed 3 Oct 2015.
[7] George William Rusden (1883), History of Australia, Volume II, page 118. Copy viewed at the Internet Archive.
[8] Truth (Sydney), 19 Feb 1922, page 12. Australiana: Norfolk Island in Major Anderson’s Time. Copy viewed at Trove. (Note: The quoted words of Joseph Anderson in this article were most likely taken from Anderson’s book Recollections of a Peninsula Veteran, published 1913.)
[9] James Backhouse (1888), Extracts from the letters of James Backhouse (third edition). First Part, pages 63-4 and 65-6. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[10] The Colonist (Sydney), 29 Sep 1836, page 7. Copy viewed at Trove.

A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 5

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Quote TWO DOLLARS REWARD, for the Apprehension of a MAN who goes by the Name of PARSON TAYLOR; he stands about 6 feet high; having swindled from the undersigned, a Pair of Trowsers and Stockings, THOMAS WATKINS, Kent-street. Unquote — The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 Dec 1825.

There could only be one man in Sydney at the end of 1825 meeting the description given above by Thomas Watkins – Robert Atcherley Taylor. He was up to his old tricks within two months of receiving his Certificate of Freedom. Although to be fair, he had said in 1824 that he wanted to go to Sydney “to procure myself a little wearing apparel (of which I am now completely destitute)”. Robert had also said that he wanted to return to England, but not to return to his “evil propensities”. He had made no promises regarding his conduct in the colony of New South Wales however.

What I find astonishing is not that Robert gave in to temptation so quickly, but that he was, despite his record and the above notice in the Sydney Gazette, employed as a Clerk to the Magistrates in the county of Argyle the following year!

The Returns of the Colony (or ‘Blue Books’) of New South Wales for 1826 show that Mr R A Taylor was appointed Clerk to the Bench, to the District Constables, and to the Petty or Ordinary Constables on 1 March that year. Robert was appointed to these positions by the Bench, with the approval of the Governor (Sir Ralph Darling). Each position paid an annual salary, of £60, £52 and £40 Sterling respectively.

Alexander MacleayNow that he was a free man in gainful employment, working for the local magistrates and police, surely Robert would stay out of trouble? It seems he did – but only for a year. After this period of apparent probity, Robert Atcherley Taylor then carried out some of the most audacious acts of his criminal career. Doctor David Reid, Esquire, Justice of the Peace, set out the details in a letter dated 18 May 1829, addressed to Colonial Secretary Macleay (pictured left):

Quote In answer to your Letter of the 26th March last, enclosing a Copy of a Letter from the Colonial Auditor, and requesting me to account for the Money advanced by the Colonial Treasurer without delay.

I beg leave to inform you that Robert Taylor, late Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates in Argyle, received the Sum of £150 from the Colonial Treasurer in advance for the Quarter ending 31st March, 1827, for the Salaries of the Police, and that he also received £40 from the Colonial Treasurer in advance of the next Quarter to enable me to give the Constables Money on account of their Salaries, and that it appears that he only paid out of the whole of that Money £33 9s. 4d., leaving a loss on the whole account of £156 10s. 8d., to the correctness of which account I am ready to make Affidavit.

I cannot help saying that it would be very hard on the Magistrates to be personally responsible for the Public Money, until it actually comes into their own hands. The Custom then was to send either the Clerk or the Constable for the whole of the Police Money, and that, in addition to all this loss, the said Taylor forged on me personally to a considerable amount, all which money I was obliged to guarantee to the person to whom he presented the forged order … Unquote

With his financial circumstances considerably improved, and doubtless with the Constables of Argyle county taking a close interest in his whereabouts, Robert put some distance between himself and the scene of his crime. He continued his criminal activities along the way, and not only by forging an order from Dr Reid. The following notice appeared in the Sydney Monitor on 21 Jun 1827:

Quote WHEREAS, on Tuesday the 5th instant, a Person calling himself ROBERT TAYLOR, and Clerk to the Bench of Magistrates at Bong-Bong, passed through Campbell Town, and hired an Entire Horse, with saddle and bridle, of the Undersigned for four days, which he has not since returned; and from other circumstances which have come to the knowledge of the Subscriber, he has reason to believe that the said ROBERT TAYLOR has sold the Horse, or made some improper use of it. This, therefore, is to Caution all Persons not to Purchase the said Horse or if already Purchased, not to detain the same after this Notice, on pain of Prosecution; and any Person returning the Horse, or giving such information as may lead to its discovery, will be handsomely rewarded. The said Horse is a bright Bay, with a star on its forehead, stands. about 15 hands high, about 8 years old, short tail, marked on the sides with the traces, and is low in condition.
Campell Town, June 13, 1827. Unquote
Australia, Sydney Supreme Court, 1848

Robert Atcherley Taylor was not at liberty for long. He was apprehended and, on Monday 27 August 1827, he appeared at the Supreme Criminal Court in Sydney (pictured above). He was not charged with the theft of the Argyle constables’ salaries, but with the fraud of which Dr Reid had been the victim. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported the case as follows:

Quote Robert Taylor was indicted for forging, and uttering a certain warrant or order, for the payment of money and the delivery of goods, in the words and figures following:—

‘Inverary, Argyle, April 28, 1827.
Please to pay Mr. Robert Taylor, the sum of £15 sterling, on my account, and send me, by the bearer, a small keg of good tobacco.
To Captain Bunn, Sydney.’

At Inverary, in the county of Argyle, with intent to defraud David Reid, Esq., and also to defraud George Bunn, Esq. of Sydney, on the 28th of April last.

The Attorney General stated the case, and called the following witnesses:—

David Reid, Esq., examined—Is one of the Magistrates for the county of Argyle; the prisoner was, some time ago, clerk to the Bench there; witness being in Sydney, a few days since, met Captain Bunn, with whom he had a running account, and who had money belonging to witness in his hands, and asked to know how the amount stood, and to shew him the balance in his favour; when the account was produced, witness knew nothing whatever about the latter part, upon which Captain Bunn referred to the voucher, which purported to be an order to deliver to the prisoner £15 in money, and a keg of tobacco, and is the issue now before the Court; the signature to the order is genuine, but was never intended to be applied to the purpose which has been superinduced on it; some time ago a change took place in the scale for regulating the salary of the constabulary, in consequence of which, a new form of requisition became necessary; witness accordingly, at the suggestion of the prisoner, affixed his signature to two blank forms, and despatched them, together with a letter, by the prisoner, to the office of the Auditor of Colonial Account, at Sydney, in order that they might be filled up there, according to the new regulation; they were signed ‘David Reid, J.P.’; never gave the prisoner any authority to apply the signature in the way he has done; they were given for the purpose already stated; never gave a blank signature for any mercantile transaction, nor ever added the letters “J. P.” to his signature, on any business of a commercial or private nature.

George Bunn, Esq. stated that, some months ago, it might be about the month of May, the prisoner presented him an order, purporting to be drawn by Dr. Reid, for the payment of some money, and for supplies for his farm; the order before the Court is the same as was so presented, and for which the prisoner obtained value; witness had a settlement of accounts, some time after, with Dr. Reid, when he denied any knowledge of this transaction, upon which witness produced the order, when he admitted the signature to be genuine, but denied that he had ever directed it to be applied to the purpose for which it had been used.

Mr. JUSTICE STEPHEN summed up the evidence, telling the Jury that if they believed, from the testimony before them, that the prisoner had applied the signature of Dr. Reid, though genuine, to a purpose for which it had never been intended, it was in the eye of the law an uttering of a counterfeit instrument.

The Jury found the prisoner Guilty. Remanded. Unquote

The sentence handed down in respect of his fraud was reported by the same newspaper on 5 September 1827. I wonder how Robert reacted when he was told:

Quote Robert Taylor, convicted of uttering a forged instrument, with intent to defraud David Reid, Esq., of Argyle, and G. Bunn, Esq., of Sydney .—Judgment of Death recorded. Unquote

> On to Part 6

Picture credits. Alexander Macleay: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Supreme Court, Sydney: Adapted from a public domain image at Project Gutenberg Australia (from Sydney in 1848, published 1848).


[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 Dec 1825, page 1. Copy viewed at Trove.
[2] Returns of the Colony (‘Blue Books’), 1822-1857 (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Series 1286, Year 1826, Pages 44 and 99-102). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony, 1822-1857. Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony, 1822-1857.
[3] Ralph Darling. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 29 Sep 2015).
[4] Library Committee of the Commonwealth Government (1922), Historical Records of Australia, series I, volume XV, pages 25-26 and 292. Copy viewed at the Internet Archive.
[5] The Monitor (Sydney), 21 Jun 1827, page 7. Copy viewed at Trove.
[6] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 29 Aug 1827, page 3. Copy viewed at Trove.
[7] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 Sep 1827, page 2. Copy viewed at Trove.

A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 4

< Back to Part 3

Quote Robert Taylor was placed at the bar, charged with obtaining money under false pretences … The Honourable the Judge Advocate remarked, with much energy, upon the extraordinary effrontery with which the fraud had been effected, under circumstances from which it was impossible the prisoner could have escaped justice; and upon a very short consultation of the Members, the prisoner was pronounced guilty; and sentenced to be transported—for seven years to Newcastle. Unquote — The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 19 September 1818.

You may be forgiven if you are experiencing a sense of déjà vu on reading the above extract from the Sydney Gazette. Robert Atcherley Taylor had been given a seven year sentence of transportation at Middlesex, for a fraud, in September 1811. Now, in September 1818, with less than a week of his sentence left to run, a second fraud had condemned him to an identical sentence within the colony which he had hoped to leave.

It was for the purpose of securing help with his plans to return to England that Robert had been given permission to travel from Van Diemen’s Land to Sydney. He would have been eligible to apply for his Certificate of Freedom once his original sentence had expired, but that chance of liberty was now gone.

The victims of Robert’s latest swindle were “Mr. C. Hadley, of the Nepean” (Charles Hadley, a pardoned convict from the Third Fleet who had settled at the Nepean River) and his agent Thomas Rose, of Castlereagh Street in Sydney. The Sydney Gazette gives the details (quoted here with a few minor amendments):

Quote The prisoner had arrived lately from Hobart Town, in the Henrietta Packet; and, with a counterfeit letter pretended to be sent to Mr. Hadley from a relative at Hobart Town, imposed on him an account of property arriving by the Jupiter, the freight whereof, stated to be £8 10s. the prisoner at the bar was to receive from Hadley on his arrival.

No suspicion was entertained of the fraud, and Hadley gave the prisoner a letter requesting Mr. Rose, as his Agent, to make such advances as he the prisoner might want during his stay in Sydney, not at all doubting the truth of his representations. Mr. Rose advanced him altogether the sum of £8; but there stopped, owing to some incidents which had rendered the prisoner suspected; whereupon a development ensued, and all was found to be a fabrication; the letter a cheat, and not a single article for Hadley by the Jupiter. Unquote

The Lady Nelson

And so it was that a “List of Prisoners to be Sent to Newcastle Per the Lady Nelson” on 19 October 1818 included Robert Taylor of the Indefatigable, convicted at the Criminal Court on 15 September that year.

Newcastle penal colony has been described as “a nasty place” where “military rule was harsh, often barbarous”. Prisoners were forced to work in the coal mines, but the “there was no more notorious place of punishment in the whole of Australia than Limeburners’ Bay … where incorrigibles were sent to burn oyster shells for making lime.” Fortunately for Robert, conditions had improved somewhat in the three years up to 1818 under the settlement’s Commandant during that period, Captain James Wallis. But even with those improvements, life for the convicts at Newcastle was no picnic.

There appears to be little on record in respect of Robert’s time at Newcastle – but what there is shows that he was still capable of mischief, and that the punishment for such behaviour was brutal. A “List of Prisoners punished at Newcastle with Nature of Offence” for the month of March 1821 includes Robert Taylor of “1st Indefatigable”. For “Disobedience of orders in going to the Settlers, repeatedly leaving his Gang & forging a Pass to deceive the Constable at Patterson’s Plains” he received 50 lashes. The same punishment had been inflicted upon many of the other men on the same list, while others had received either 25 or 75 lashes. All must have suffered terribly.

Fortunately for Robert, by 1821 Newcastle’s days as a penal colony were numbered: Governor Macquarie felt that it was situated too close to Sydney for comfort, and the land was ripe for development by settlers. Military rule at Newcastle ended In 1823, by which time only 100 convicts remained. Robert Taylor of the Indefatigable was one of the 900 prisoners who were transferred to the penal colony at Port Macquarie, where he appears on a convict muster taken in 1822.

Robert had in fact been moved to Port Macquarie in 1821. The evidence for this takes the form of a testimonial written by another man who arrived at that penal colony in the same year. Captain Francis Allman of the 48th Regiment was Commandant at Port Macquarie from 1 March 1821. From Allman’s testimonial it can be seen that Robert’s fortunes changed for the better after his transfer. No longer compelled to undertake hard manual labour, Robert was instead given the job of schoolmaster, a duty he performed in a manner which impressed:

Quote This is to Certify that the Bearer Robert Taylor was appointed by me Master of the Government School at Port Macquarie at its first formation in the year 1821, and continued in that station up to the period of my leaving the Settlement in April 1824, and from the circumstance of my having minutely examined the School on the first Friday in every Month I Consider it a Point of Justice to Represent that the progress made by the Children far exceeded my most sanguine expectations together with the Discipline : and which did not pass unnoticed by the Colonial Secretary, and I further Certify that my Instructions relative to their being Brought up In Bells System of Education in Strict Uniformity to the Principles and Tenets of the Church of England were faithfully discharged by him. Unquote

In 1824 Robert evidently decided that his sustained and widely recognised period of good conduct provided grounds for the mitigation of his sentence. In April that year he petitioned the Captain General Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane (pictured below). His petition was backed up by short testimonials from William Clayton (a Sergeant in the 48th Regiment), William Hudson (a Colour Sergeant in that regiment), George Muir (wharfinger), William Wilson (overseer), John Hillis (position unspecified), John Hawkins (overseer of stock), and Stephen Partridge (Superintendent at Port Macquarie). Robert’s petition took the following form:

Quote The Humble Petition of
Robert A. Taylor a
Prisoner to the Crown,
and Government School
Master at Port Macquarie
Most Humbly and Respectfully Sheweth
That your Excellencys Petitioner with many other deluded votaries in the Colony hath hitherto sought for happiness in following the deceitful paths of Sin, which of course brought on him the sentence of seven Years Transportation at the Criminal Court held at Sydney in the year 1818.
That your Petitioner being with humble submission to the Offended Laws of his Country, presumes to hope that your Excellency will be pleased to blend the rigour of Justice with the feelings of humanity, by remitting the remainder of the Unexpired term of the said Colonial sentence, for which Indulgence Petitioner as in duty bound will ever Pray
Robert A Taylor Unquote

Uncertain whether his petition had been “deemed worthy of notice“, on 4 May 1824 Robert followed it up with a letter to Colonial Secretary Frederick Goulburn, in which he made the following plea:

Quote Pardon me Honl. Sir in further stating That if you will in this instance extend your clemency So far As to allow me to Return to Head Quarters, and pass the Remainder of my Term independent of Govt, it will enable me to procure myself a little wearing apparel (of which I am now completely destitute), and ultimately forward in Views in proceeding to England, not to return to my evil propensities, but to make with an ancient patriarch this solemn enquiry, “Is my father still alive”, and If So to claim with the prodigal, in the Gospel His forgiveness, and that of the family, I have so mortally disgraced. Unquote

Robert’s hopes of early release were given a huge boost when he received a reply from the Colonial Secretary, dated 22 June 1824, which stated that: “Your Memorial of the 5th of April having been submitted to the Governor, I have been honored with this instruction, that the remainder of your Sentence may be remitted, if such remission accord with Colonial regulations.”

Encouraged, in fact “deeply impressed with Gratitude”, Robert wrote a further ‘Memorial’ in which he again requested his “removal to Head Quarters” (Sydney). But for some reason, progress then stalled and Robert did not, in the end, secure any remission of his sentence. A general muster taken in 1825 shows that Robert was still at Port Macquarie. The transcript of Francis Allman’s testimonial which appears above, although relating to the period from 1821 to 1824, was not in fact written until 13 September 1825. This was almost at the very end of Robert’s full – and unremitted – seven year sentence of transportation.

Finally, on 6 October 1825, Robert Taylor, schoolmaster, of the Indefatigable (1), originally convicted on 23 September 1811, and a native of Shropshire, was issued with his Certificate of Freedom. After 14 long years Robert Atcherley Taylor was at last a free man. But for how long would this remain the case?

> On to Part 5

Picture credits: The Lady Nelson: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Sir Thomas Brisbane: Public domain image at Wikimedia Commons.


[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sat 19 Sep 1818, page 3. Copy viewed at Trove.
[2] Descendants of Charles Hadley (website, accessed 27 Sep 2015).
[3] Colonial Secretary, Out-letter books (State Records Authority of New South Wales NRS937, reel 6006, item 4/3499, page 107 – List of Prisoners to be Sent to Newcastle Per the Lady Nelson dated 19 Oct 1818). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856. Indexed at Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825.
[4] Discovery & Founding of Newcastle. At: The City of Newcastle website (accessed 27 Sep 2015).
[5] Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence, Special Bundles, 1794-1825, Monthly returns of Punishments, Newcastle, Dec 1810-Oct 1825 (State Records Authority of New South Wales, reel 6023, item 4/1718, page 125 – List of Prisoners punished at Newcastle with Nature of Offence for Mar 1821). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856. Indexed at Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825.
[6] Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania including convict censuses (The National Archives, Kew, series HO10, piece 36, folio 303 dorso – general muster, 1822). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849.
[7] Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence, Letters Received 1788-1826 (State Records Authority of New South Wales, reel 6064, item 4/6665.7, page 9 – testimonial of Francis Allman). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856. Indexed at Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825.
[8] Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence, Petitions to the Governor from convicts for mitigations of sentences, 1810-26 (State Records Authority of New South Wales NRS 900, Fiche 3243; 4/1872, pages 107 to 107i – petition of Robert A Taylor dated 5 Apr 1824; testimonials of William Clayton, William Hudson, George Muir, William Wilson, John Hillis, John Hawkins and Stephen Partridge (various dates); memorial of Robert A Taylor dated 4 May 1824; memorial of Robert A Taylor dated 28 Jun 1824). Indexed at Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825.
[9] Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence, Out-letter books (State Records Authority of New South Wales NRS937, reel 6013, item 4/3511, page 107 – Letter from F Goulburn to Robert A Taylor dated 22 Jun 1824). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856. Indexed at Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825.
[10] Registers of certificates of freedom 1810 to 1833 (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Series 12208, volume 4/4424, certificate 22/4374 dated 6 Oct 1825 for Robert Taylor). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867.

A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 3

< Back to Part 2.

Quote The post office department was in an exceedingly primitive condition in those days. Mr. James Mitchell was postmaster at Hobart Town. A weekly messenger carried letters to Coal River and Pittwater, but no further. In October, 1816, a vast stride was made in this branch of the public service by the appointment of Robert A. Taylor as ‘Government messenger’ between Hobart Town and Port Dalrymple, the name by which Launceston was then known. Unquote — A History of Tasmania.

Robert Atcherley Taylor spent about six years of his seven year sentence of transportation in the colony of New South Wales, which at that time included the island known as Van Diemen’s Land (where Robert arrived, on the Indefatigable, in October 1812). For most of that period I have, unfortunately, found no records which would confirm Robert’s whereabouts and activities (although I suspect that he did not leave Van Diemen’s Land until the very end of his sentence).

Governor Lachlan MacquarieA despatch dated 28 January 1813, sent by Governor Macquarie (pictured right) to Major Andrew Geils, then administrator of Van Diemen’s Land, provides some information regarding the fate of the consignment of convicts of which Robert was a part:

Quote I approve of your having sent Eighty of the Male Convicts, arrived in the Indefatigable Transport, for the use of the Settlement of Port Dalrymple; but you omitted to send me a Return of those you retained at the Derwent, which you ought to have done, specifying to whom they were assigned. I hope most of them were given to the Settlers, and that you retained very few of them for Government excepting the real mechanics. Unquote

Whether Major Geils eventually sent the return desired by Governor Macquarie I do not know. If he did, and a copy survives, it would give an indication as to where Robert Atcherley Taylor was sent after his arrival at Hobart Town. The Australian Government website notes that “From 1810, convicts were seen as a source of labour to advance and develop the British colony. Convict labour was used to develop the public facilities of the colonies – roads, causeways, bridges, courthouses and hospitals. Convicts also worked for free settlers and small land holders.” Who did Robert work for?

Thankfully, Robert’s years on Van Diemen’s Land are not a complete blank, as you will have gathered from the above extract from A History of Tasmania. As an educated man, Robert may well have been assigned to Government administrative duties. His good conduct in such a position might then have marked him as a suitable person for the position of Government Messenger, to which he was appointed  on 23 October 1816. The following notice was published on the front page of The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter on 26 October 1816:

Robert Atcherley Taylor - Govt Notice 1817

James Fenton, the author of A History of Tasmania, stated that Robert “was to leave each place on alternate Sunday mornings”, a statement which does not tally with the above notice, clearly stating that Robert was “to leave either Hobart Town or Launceston every Tuesday morning alternately.” I suspect that Fenton’s source was not the original notice, but James Bonwick’s Curious Facts of Old Colonial Days published in 1870. Bonwick got Sunday confused with Tuesday in his otherwise accurate transcript of the Government notice, and went on to say:

Quote The two places were above one hundred and twenty miles apart. No road existed. The country was very mountainous and scrubby. Bushrangers and hostile natives beset the traveller in the bush. But the postman was required to take only a week to convey letters from one place to the other. Unquote

Undertaking the role of Government Messenger was clearly a significant challenge, though by no means a unique one. There are parallels here between Robert’s job and that of Paul Hollywood’s ancestor, Donald McKenzie, a ‘post-runner’ in the Scottish highlands who featured in Paul’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (shown August 2015 on BBC TV). However, although both Taylor and McKenzie  had to complete weekly round trips of 120 miles over rugged country, it is unlikely that the latter was faced with “bushrangers and hostile natives”!

The establishment of this messenger service was a big deal for the residents of Port Dalrymple (a.k.a. Launceston – the two names appear to have been interchangeable at that time). To return to Fenton’s account:

Quote The arrival of a mail only one week from Hobart Town was an occasion of great joy at Launceston, whose inhabitants now felt that they were living in an age of progress. Hitherto the settlement on the Tamar had been more isolated than either Sydney or Hobart Town, as but few vessels entered Port Dalrymple. Now there was a chance of a fortnightly mail, if it did not miscarry on the way. Unquote

If it did not miscarry on the way? The Government Messenger was a convicted fraudster, what could possibly go wrong?!?

As you might guess, Robert did not stay on the straight and narrow (though a 120 mile weekly round trip across the mountains is probably not best described as ‘straight and narrow’). To his credit, he appears to have stuck to his task for nine whole months before ‘straying from the path.’ Then, on 26 July 1817, the following notice appeared in The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter:

14th July, 1817.
ROBT. Taylor, crown servant (commonly called Parson Taylor), having absented himself from Public Works, all Constables and others are hereby strictly required to use their utmost Exertions in apprehending and lodging him in safe Custody.
The said Robert Taylor was seen at Herdsman’s Cove on Thursday Morning, and exhibited certain Papers, which he said he was authorized by Government to take to Port Dalrymple; but the said Robert Taylor having no Pass or other Authority to Absent himself from Public Works at Hobart Town, any Person or Persons harbouring, concealing, or maintaining the said Absence will be prosecuted for the Offence.

This was followed by another notice in the same publication on 2 August 1817:

Government & General Orders.
Saturday, 25th July, 1817.
IT appearing that Robert Taylor (commonly called Parson Taylor), who is Advertised as having absented himself from Government Employment without leave, was allowed to pass the River and through the Country without any pass, merely showing an Old Letter, which he called a Dispatch for Port Dalrymple; It is hereby ordered that no Letters, Proclamations, or Dispatches, even though marked outside with the LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR’s NAME, be admitted as a Pass, but that in all Cases a Regular Pass signed by the Lieutenant Governor be required. And all Ferrymen and others are warned, that they will be called to severe account for neglecting and disobeying this Order.
By Command of His Honor the Lieutenant Governor,
W. A. ROSS, Secretary.

So, Robert had absented himself from his duties and was using paperwork in the name of the Lieutenant Governor as a ‘pass’ to roam freely across Van Diemen’s Land. He was also going by the name of Parson Taylor, despite the fact that it was because of his actions as a ‘pretended vicar’ that he was sent Down Under in the first place!

Simon Barnard, author of A-Z Of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land, has noted that “after absconding and using an appropriated letter with the lieutenant-governor’s signature as a pass to roam the colony, [Robert Taylor] was sent to the goal gang for three months.” This was indeed the case. Entries in the Conduct Register for Robert A Taylor of the Indefatigable (1) of 1812 include the following, dated 11 August 1817: “Going to Port Dalrymple witht. a pass – 3 mos. g. Gang”. This was a severe punishment. Southerly (the Magazine of the Australian English Association) defined ‘a gaol gang as “a gang confined to the gaol, working a twelve-hour day, often in irons, and allowed no time (as others were) to work for themselves”.

Lieut.-Governor William SorellDespite this misadventure, for Robert Atcherley Taylor the end of his seven year sentence – and a return England – were both in sight. On 11 August 1818 Lieut.-Governor William Sorell (pictured right) at Hobart Town sent a despatch to Colonial Secretary Campbell, which began as follows:

Quote Sir,
Robert Taylor, who arrived at this Settlement in the Indefatigable, Cross Master, and whose sentence will expire in September ensuing, having had my permission to proceed from Port Dalrymple to Sydney, I beg to state, for the Information of His  Excellency, that my motive for allowing him to do so has been in consideration of his having had a decent education, and his representation of a prospect, from the Rev. Mr. Cartwright’s former knowledge of him, in obtaining from that gentleman some assistance with his Endeavours to get back to England. He is furnished with an Extract from the Indent of the Indefatigable at this office (copy of which I enclose) and he will apply for his certificate on the Expiration of his sentence next month. … Unquote

The news contained within Colonial Secretary Campbell’s reply of 23 September 1818 was not good however. He stated that Robert Taylor would have received his Certificate, “but previous to the regular time of applying for it, He Committed a fresh Offence which has Subjected him to a fresh Sentence from the Criminal Court for a further Period of Seven years.”

> On to Part 4

Picture credits. Governor Lachlan Macquarie: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Government notice in The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter: Published before 1954 and therefore out of copyright; taken from Trove (National Library of Australia) (see Trove’s Using digitised newspapers FAQ). Lieut.-Governor William Sorell: adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons.


[1] James Fenton (1884), A History of Tasmania, page 59. Copy viewed at the Internet Archive.
[2] Frederick Watson (ed.) (1921), Historical Records of Australia, Series III, Despatches and papers relating to the settlement of the states, volume II, pages 4-5. Copy viewed at La Trobe University website (15Mb PDF file).
[3] Convicts and the British colonies in Australia. At: Australia.gov.au website (accessed 23 Sep 2015).
[4] Frederick Watson (ed.) (1921), (see [2] above) page 25.
[5] The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 26 Oct 1816, page 1. Copy viewed at Trove.
[6] James Bonwick (1870), Curious Facts of Old Colonial Days. Page 293. Copy viewed at the Internet Archive.
[7] Jon Bauckham (2015), Paul Hollywood episode summary. At: Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine website (accessed 27 Sep 2015).
[8] The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 26 Jul 1817, page 1. Copy viewed at Trove.
[9] The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 2 Aug 1817, page 1. Copy viewed at Trove.
[10] Extra Information. At: A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land (website, accessed 22 Sep 2015).
[11] Conduct Registers of Male Convicts Arriving in the Period of the Assignment System, Convict surnames beginning with T (1810 – Jan 1830), U ( 1810 – Jan 1830) and V (1810 – Jan 1830) (Tasmanian Archives and Heritage, ref. CON31/1/42, entry for Robert A Taylor). Copy viewed at Linc Tasmania.
[12] Australian English Association (1973), Southerly. Page 205. Snippet viewed at Google Books.
[13] Frederick Watson (ed.) (1921), (see [2] above) pages 347-8.
[14] Colonial Secretary, Letters sent, 1808-25 (New South Wales Government, Series 897, letter dated 23 Sep 1818 regarding Robt. Taylor and others). Copy viewed at Ancestry – New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856.

A fraudster Down Under: Robert Atcherley Taylor – Part 2

< Back to Part 1.

As a result of his conviction for fraud, Robert Atcherley Taylor was sentenced to seven years transportation or, as one commentator gleefully expressed it, “ordered to Botany Bay!” What a shock this must have been for Robert’s family, and what shame they must have felt when the story of his misdeeds hit the press. Robert was after all the son of a clergyman – a clergyman for whom, it seems, Robert’s transportation could not come soon enough.

However much his father may have wanted it, Robert’s voyage ‘Down Under’ did not begin immediately after his conviction. The first place to which he was delivered from the Middlesex Session of the Peace was Newgate Prison, a gaol which according to one author “remained constantly, from the first and almost to the last, one of the worst-kept prisons in the kingdom”.

According to a House of Commons Select Committee report published in 1813, “When a prisoner is first committed [to Newgate] … he is usually put into the Common side, from whence he is removed into either of the other two [sides], which he may think proper, upon paying the settled fee.” Payment of a fee of two guineas gained the prisoner admission to the State or Superior Master Felons side; an additional seven shillings a week secured the use of a bed (or, if the number of inmates was high, half a bed). For a fee of 13s. 6d. a prisoner could occupy the Master Felons side, where a bed (or half of one) cost 2s. 6d. per week.

Having previously been a prisoner for debt, Robert Atcherley Taylor was not in a position to pay for his ‘removal’ from the Common side of Newgate. There, he slept – uncomfortably – on a barrack bed, which was “merely a part of the floor of the room raised in a sloping direction, about six inches above the remainder, with a ledge a few inches higher for the head to rest upon”. Prisoners were issued a single rug to lie on, but were allowed to take in their own bedding if they had any, so long as it was not of straw.

London, Newgate Prison circa 1810West view of Newgate (about 1810)

Robert remained at Newgate for several months, during which time at least two letters were sent to officials at the Home Office regarding his fate, one by an Archdeacon Corbett, and the second by Robert’s father, the Rev Robert Taylor. When I finally managed to decipher the handwritten replies which were sent (and it appears that it is only the replies which have survived) I was, to say the very least, surprised. The letters from the Archdeacon and the Reverend Taylor were not appeals for clemency. On the contrary, if my reading of the responses to their missives is correct, both men wanted assurances that Robert Atcherley Taylor would be transported!

Both of the Home Office letters were sent from Whitehall by a Mr Beckett, on behalf of “Mr Secretary Ryder” (Richard Ryder, the Home Secretary). I believe the first, sent to Archdeacon Corbett on 13 November 1811, ended with an assurance that the Archdeacon’s wishes would be complied with, by sending “the Convict in question” (already referred to as Robert Atcherley Taylor) to the Colony of New South Wales, “pursuant to his sentence.”

The second reply, dated 27 January 1812 and addressed to Rev Robert Taylor, I found rather more legible and I will quote it in full (with the warning that my transcription may not be 100% accurate):

Quote I am directed by Mr Secretary Ryder to acknowledge the receipt of your letter relative to Robert A Taylor a Convict under Sentence of Transportation in the Gaol of Newgate and to acquaint you in reply thereto that Mr. Ryder enters very sensibly into the feelings which you have expressed respecting the Prisoner, and will not fail to direct his removal to the Hulks from Newgate in the coming few days, and furthermore he will be sent to New South Wales by the first opportunity. Unquote

One interpretation of this correspondence is that Robert’s father, and the Church, took the view that seven years in the Colonies would be good for Robert’s soul: he would have plenty of time to contemplate the error of his ways and repent his sins. A less generous reading of the situation is that Robert Atcherley Taylor was regarded as an embarrassment by both his father and the Church, an embarrassment which was best removed as far away from the public’s attention as possible.

Robert’s transfer to the prison hulk Zealand, at Sheerness, took place on 27 February 1812. A Select Committee report dated 27 June 1812 shows that prisoners aboard the Zealand were confined to three decks of the ship. During the hours of darkness the prisoners were locked down within their decks and left to their own devices, with no officers or guards to control them. Over the winter months this period of lockdown could account for as much as two thirds of each day. For Robert, those nights must have been very long indeed.

After the hatches were unlocked in the mornings, a proportion of the prisoners were, after breakfast, sent ashore to labour in the dockyard. The above-mentioned Select Committee report stated:

Quote … the number sent on shore from the Zealand necessarily depends upon the demand made from day to day by the officers of the Dock-yard at Sheerness, there not being regular employment at present in that yard for more than about 200 out of about 500, which that Hulk generally contains; but there does not appear to be any precise rule by which the Captain determines which individuals shall go on shore, or settles who shall do the ship’s duty.

The convicts all dine on board the Hulk, and those who have worked on shore before dinner are replaced afterwards by those who remained on board during the former part of the day, unless more are wanted than can be supplied from the latter description, in which case some of those who have been employed at the easiest work on shore are sent again to make up the number required.

The Captain says, that he takes those for work on shore in the morning who come forward, and that they in general prefer going to labour in the morning, that they may stay on board in the afternoon. The convicts in the ship, with the exception of a few shoemakers and tailors, employed in keeping the shoes and clothes of the others in repair, and of those engaged in the ship’s duty, are allowed to be idle, or to work for themselves at their pleasure … Unquote

Chaplains were also employed to “to read Prayers and preach a Sermon every Sunday throughout the year, and On Christmas-day and Good Friday, in the Chapel on board”. The Zealand’s Chaplain would spend a fortnight at a time on board the hulk, during which time he would attempt “to reclaim the convicts, by conversing with them, and giving them good advice”. I wonder whether he got to talk to Robert Atcherley Taylor? I also wonder whether Robert was one of the prisoners who “occasionally taught others to read and write.”

The Zealand’s Quarterly Book shows that Robert received 23 days of victuals (covering the period from 27 February to 31 March) and was provided with the following items of “cloathing”: one jacket, one waistcoat, one pair of breeches, one pair of stockings, two shirts, one handkerchief, one pair of shoes and one hat. Another 21 days of victuals were allocated from 1 April, along with an additional pair of breeches and also of stockings. After 21 April, it is likely that Robert was on the move – and heading for his next ship.

Robert Taylor, convicted on 23 September 1811 at Middlesex Sessions of the Peace, appeared in an “Account of Convicts delivered on board the Indefatigable”, “on or about the 9 Day of May 1812”. This was the vessel which would take him on the long voyage to the colony of New South Wales.

The Indefatigable sailed from England on 4 June 1812 carrying 200 male prisoners, and was accompanied by the Minstrel, with 126 female prisoners on board. Nearly five months later The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported:

Quote These two vessels arrived at Rio Janeiro the 29th of July, and found there the Archduke Charles, from Ireland, with 150 male, and 50 female prisoners for Port Jackson.

The three vessels sailed in company from Rio the 11th of August last, but the Archduke Charles separated the day following, and may shortly be expected.

The Minstrel and Indefatigable kept company till the 7th of August, and then separated in a gale of wind. Unquote

While the Minstrel was bound for Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour), the Indefatigable was headed for Hobart Town. She reached that destination on 19 October, having lost just one of her cargo of convicts en route (who was “killed by the accidental explosion of a musket”).

Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo PointMount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point

Robert Atcherley Taylor had finally arrived in Van Diemen’s Land. Back in England, his father was perhaps praying that a few years spent on the other side of the world would change Robert for the better, and return him to the path of righteousness. If so, his prayers were to go unanswered.

> On to Part 3.

Picture credits. West view of Newgate (about 1810): Enhanced version of public domain image at Wikimedia Commons (19th century print of a painting by George Shepherd). Mount Wellington and Hobart Town from Kangaroo Point: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons (1834 painting by John Glover).


[1] Criminal Registers, England and Wales (The National Archives, Kew, Class HO 26, Piece 17, page 98). Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892.
[2] Church and State, Swindling and Botany Bay! In: The Reformists’ Register, no. 3, 12 Oct 1811, pages 45-6. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[3] Newgate Prison, London: lists of felons on the Common Side (Series PCOM 2, piece 187. Several entries for Robert Atcherley Taylor. Copies of selected pages viewed at Findmypast – England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935.
[4] Arthur Griffiths (1884), The Chronicles of Newgate, volume I, page vii. Copy viewed at the Internet Archive.
[5] Report from the Select Committee on Mr. Thomas Croggon’s imprisonment at Newgate. In: Reports from Committees (Fist Part), volume III (Session 1812-13). Copy viewed at Google Books.
[6] Home Office, Criminal Entry Books 1782-1871 (The National Archives, Kew, Series HO 13, piece 22, pages 244 and 306). Copies viewed at Findmypast – England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935.
[7] Treasury, Departmental Accounts, Convict Hulks: Zealand’s Quarterly Book to 31st March 1812 entry 505 (The National Archives, Kew, Series T 38, Piece 337). Copy viewed at Findmypast – England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935.
[8] Third Report from the Committee on the Laws relating to Penitentiary Houses. In: Reports from Committees &c. (Second Part), volume IV (Session 1813-14). Copy viewed at Google Books.
[9] Home Office, Convict transportation registers (The National Archives, Kew, Series HO 11, Piece 2, folio 30, page 57). Copy viewed at Ancestry – Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868. Indexed at One Search Family History Indexes.
[10] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 24 Oct 1812, page 3. Copy viewed at Trove.
[11] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 12 Dec 1812, 2. Copy viewed at Trove.